My name is Paul Manning, this is my story and what I’m about to tell you is totally true. The following movie comparison may not be, however I use it here to emphasize and illustrate the injustices and pain perpetrated upon many parents, but particularly upon fathers especially so since I am one myself. I feel the comparison is apt and fitting although you may think it’s a little over the top, but with respect I think you would be wrong.
One of my all time favourite films is “Schindler’s List” It is the story of a brave and courageous German business, ‘Oscar Schindler’ a man who during the 2nd war endeavored to save the lives of hundreds of Jews from their fate of being gassed to death by the Nazis. It is not possible for me to forget a particular poignant scene in the film where a lone forlorn blonde haired little girl, dressed in her tidy red coat, is seen scurrying down the street terrified by the horrors that surround her. She is lost and shaken, she is without the protection of her father to make her feel safe and secure and she has no idea where she is going as she seeks to find her father.
Countless children were being systematically separated from their Jewish parents by a Nazi regime that was hell-bent on exterminating them all, along with any bonds of hope and love they might still have remaining for each other. A regime that was empowered by sheepish cowardly people, by the masses, by your average upstanding voting citizen who mostly supported what was going on, all be it blindly. The law and authority of the day took children from their parents and off they went to Auschwitz or Belsen, concentration camps set up to butcher them. The parents were directed one way and their tearful petrified children went another, but all, equally, to their horrible deaths. I distinctly remember that movie and through clever use of colour on black and white, your eye is directed to the only colour seen on the screen up to then. It is at this point you discover what has been the little girl’s fate. Her red coat is the only color you see and there she is laying dead on the top of a heap of bloody bodies on the back of a horse-drawn cart. I have to tell you that my feelings were such that I just couldn’t prevent myself shedding tears at this point in the scene.
Sometimes when we face and watch such horror as this it can sensitive us even more to the suffering of others. Ok it is sad and harrowing to watch, but somehow it will make you a better human being because your tears are full of empathy and of anger at the injustices taking place. That intense emotional feeling can make you act in ways for good that you never thought possible. As an example, Sir Bob Geldof (a hero of mine) was so moved and angered by the sight of starving African pot-bellied children, that it led him to forcefully demand on TV, in that Dublin brogue of his, “Give us your fucking money and now!” He didn’t quite manage to feed the world, but he had a damn good try, and probably saved thousands from starvation. Yes he cared, but that care was brought about by what he observed and his feelings of rage, and so he found it impossible to ignore the terrible injustice that was taking place to others less fortunate than himself.
So, why am I telling you all this and what is the little girls plight comparable to in my own story? I shall tell you, because in many ways such a situation is still taking place today, yes right here in the good old United Kingdom, that’s why! Every day of every week the authority and perverted family courts of our own country is separating hundreds of sons and daughters from their fathers and starving them of the love and protection they deserve from their dads. It is happening right under your very noses and with seeming legality. Ok our children are not being shipped off to concentration camps or being gassed, but did you know that many fathers have been imprisoned for their demonstrations against the cruelty of the state towards them, just for trying to get back to the ones they love so that they can see them again, their own flesh and blood, their children. I ask you, Is this so wrong that they deserve to be incarcerated?
The severe emotional pain of fathers, who are not in a position to protect or even see their loved ones, is exactly the same pain and emotion as that experienced by a fearful father who had lost his little red-coated precious daughter as depicted in the film. He had lost her and was beside himself with worry, how on Earth was he expected to deal with such pain as this, indeed how can any parent? The circumstances are different yes, but the pain and bereavement of losing a child is the same. Unless you have experienced it you cannot possibly know how it feels. It is a chasm of darkness void of even a flickering candle of hope, but somehow it is the love of your child in your heart that keeps you going and you hang on to that thin strand of hope, it is all you have.
I am not telling you all this to obtain your sympathy, but that very same pain is in my heart every minute of the day, it is a pain that will not go away. It eats away at me and makes me angry and confused. I constantly ask myself… ‘why is this happening to me and my child, what have I done that is so wrong? What have I done to deserve the emotional pain of separation from a son I truly love?’ And you know what?…Not a soul or a Family court Judge has ever been able to give me the answer.
How it all started.
At the age of 45 I never dreamt that I would get the chance to have another child, but thankfully I did. My previous children had all grown up and in many ways I had some regrets that I had not spent more time with them or gotten to know them better. I stupidly thought that to work every hour God sent was the wise course, and I admit that I made some terrible mistakes in bringing them up strictly within the regime of our religion at the time, God I was so wrong and have many regrets! But now this time things were going to be different, I had another chance to give all my time and love to the son of my maturing age, and I was so happy to do it too.
And so Elliott was born in the midst of a great swell of love between his mother and me, she and I were never ever going to part, it just couldn’t happen. On the day she bought that pregnancy test and it showed positive, well that was one of the happiest days of my life and she knew it. I was determined to support her as much as I could. I attended all the ante-natal classes with her at the hospital, every nuance of Elliott’s development and growth I wanted to know about. The day came when I lifted Elliott out of his mother’s womb and out of the warm waters of the birthing pool, yes he was born at home. The midwife had seen how intent I was and emotionally involved, so with her guiding hand close by she had allowed me to lift my son out of the waters and to hold him while he took his first breath of life. I cried tears of happiness as I looked into his eyes and then into the eyes of his exhausted mother that I truly loved. I remember those tears so much, so very much in love we were and so happy to have our special son, Elliott.
After Maria’s maternity leave expired she was eager to get back to work and to enhance her career as a teacher and reflexologist. She had loosely talked about getting a child-minder so that we could both keep working, I was self-employed with a small timber and laminate flooring concern. Maria was not prepared to give up work, but there was no way I was going to let someone else look after Elliott, indeed I insisted that I stayed at home to be his main carer. And so I shelved my business and eagerly took up being a full-time dad while Maria worked.
I bonded with Elliott in the most remarkable way, I loved to watch him sleep and to feed him was a fun time for us both. I remember that he loved splashing about in the tub and giggling with such glee. Elliott became old enough to go to nursery school, so I took him on his first day. It was the first time we had been apart and I cried more than he did when I left him in the care of a stranger.
He eventually grew to like nursery, but he was always in a rush to get back home to his dad. So, I had become Elliott’s main carer and was fully involved in his education. When he moved on in to junior school I was picking him up most days and getting to know all the staff and teachers there, I was well-known by all there. Elliott was now six and was keen to learn football and cricket; we spent hours together at the park with some of his pals from school, knocking a ball about. After we would go back to mum and I would do the normal thing of making dinner, yes I even did all the cooking and doing the house choirs too. Looking back now I realise that I had made a huge mistake in giving up to much of my personal life, my friends, my pastimes, my pub quiz and playing in the snooker team, but now it was all gone. All this so I could be with Maria and Elliott, I loved them too much I guess, is that possible to do? I realise now that I had lost my own identity. In all this time I had not noticed that I had become fully domesticated and kind of house bound because my World revolved around Elliott.
I don’t know what happened, but the time came when Maria voiced the opinion that the spark had gone out of our relationship, I couldn’t understand how it had come to this, all I know was that most of my time was spent caring for our son and for Maria and for her 2 daughters as well. I was so disappointed, foolishly I thought everything was fine between us, but evidently I was wrong. Maria craved excitement and her French ways were very demanding, she always got what she wanted in the end. After I had made her home a palace and fit to live in, much of which was at my own expense, eventually we broke up. I was heartbroken and it made me very sad and to some degree depressed, my doctor prescribed prozac to cheer me up, it didn’t work.
So, I went back to my own dilapidated house that I had rented out to students so as to raise some extra cash to help along with Maria’s finances. She knew that I loved Elliott dearly so she agreed to draw up a written agreement where we would share Elliott’s care 50/50. He had his own bedroom at my home and all his own things that I had acquired for him. Fortunately Maria’s house was only just over the garden wall, so Elliott didn’t feel much of a change or any upheaval. I had always trusted Maria even though we were not married and therefore never saw the need to apply for, PR, “parental responsibility” why would I? However, I now realise that I didn’t really know Maria at all, because she flatly refused to give me that PR. From this point on I worried greatly and I realised that Maria was a total controlling egotist, it’s often the French way to exert their characters in this manner.
After 2 years of separation the day came when Maria emailed me to say that she had met someone else and for some reason or other that I should stop picking Elliott up from school, a thing I cherished doing. I emailed back to calmly say that it was ok; that I would rather keep doing it and it would upset Elli if I wasn’t there to get him from school. No! she ordered, “I want you to stop picking him up altogether” I politely refused. I contacted a solicitor who advised me that she had no right to unilaterally change the written agreement we had drawn up together, that had been in force over the past 2 years after our separation. Apprehensively on the following Wednesday I went to school, as was normal, to get Elliott, there was no fuss and for Elliott it was just a routine time with his father. We then went to a play centre with one of my friends and his two kids who are pals with Elliott.
While there I received a call on my mobile from the police accusing me of abducting Elliott from his mother and that I should return him and at once. I was deeply shocked and tried to explain to them that it was nonsense and not to believe a word she said. Elliott was not party to what was happening or to what was said, for him my concern was shielding him from any pain or harm. Under these circumstances I decided to accept the invite to go to tea with my friend’s family. While there I received another call from the police ordering me to take Elliott back to his mother, this unnerved me and I was deeply worried. I told them I would be taking Elliott to school as normal the following day and that everything was fine. We stayed at my friend’s house over night to avoid any distress to Elliott should I go back to my own home and find the police waiting for me, also Maria spitting lies everywhere while waiting for me to return home, I wanted to avoid that likely scenario. The following day I dropped Elliott off at school as promised. I hugged him and said goodbye wondering if this was the start of a battle to continue to have my son in my life.
Little did I know that police had battered down my door during the night, I found it laying on the garden lawn as I arrived home. Under close police supervision I spent the next 6 hours under police custody at my home although not arrested. I was released without charge or even a caution following my interview. The interviewing officer could see I was a reasonable man, not the lunatic Maria had now portrayed me to be. The police eventually realized what was going on here and expressed their annoyance at spending thousands of pounds in man hours in searching for my car with a police helicopter assisting the night before.
The next day and unknown to me Maria had been able to secure an ex-parte emergency family court hearing. She was granted an injunction barring me from going anywhere near Elliott’s school or her home. I was not even allowed a chance to defend myself to her crazy made up allegations, all done in secret without prior notice given to me. Thus began an ongoing nightmare of family court hearings that have wiped out most of my savings and restricted Elliott of any contact with his father during these (presently) 4 years of court hearings.
After a year of hearings at the family courts I was allowed access to Elliott who was by now 8 years of age. An interim order was made giving me contact for 6 hours a week, but supervised by friends. Why the supervision? I had no idea, but was forced to accept it as I was told that it was the only way I would get to see the son I loved. After some time and with Cafcass’s fabricating involvement the contact arrangement was halted based upon a total lie, giving me no access to Elliott at all. After a further 6 months battling through the courts eventually I was allowed contact again, but this time at a local private contact centre, having to personally finance the arrangement myself to the tune of some £80 for each visit lasting for just 2 hours a month. If that wasn’t enough, Cafcass had arranged for contact to be supervised by two ‘bouncers’ from ‘Core children’s services’, invoicing me for over £700 for the service and possibly rising to £800 if contact reports are required. I was outraged by this and I knew then that Cafcass were siding entirely with my Ex. The longer this has gone on the angrier I became and the more anger and distress I showed the more Cafcass wanted me out of Elliott’s life, it was a catch 22 situation for me, with no way out.
And the reason I am so closely supervised? Following advice from my solicitor, yes I had indeed collected Elliott from school that day as was normal with the shared care arrangement we had made together, Post separation. We had sat down and had both signed up to that written agreement to share parenting of Elliott. A contract I thought superseded any individual parent being able to trump the other, I had that in writing and it was signed by both of us. Only the day came when Maria unilaterally decided to break the agreement and withhold all access forthwith, but certainly this had nothing to do with me being a bad father or that I have ever harmed my son in any way. I love him with all my heart and he feels the same way towards me.
Just 2 hours a month supervised contact with my son, God! even prisoners get more visitation rights! For some strange reason now I am prevented any of Elliott’s school reports and ordered not to talk to him about his education or about anything remotely connected with his mother. Despite the false surroundings, Elliott asks for more time with me and gets upset when our short time together comes to an end each month. The independent supervisors report well and their feedback has always been positive and accurate. They have written many fine reports for the Cafcass officer to read on how happy Elliott is to see me and how I am more than a capable father. However, Cafcass and the courts have not listened and the close supervision has remained in place.
Recently, due to problems fabricated by Maria the manager of the contact centre informed me he would not be able to continue supplying a facility for contact for Elliott and me, it seems that I am not paying enough for him to be bothered with handling extra issues thrown up by my ex, which are many, she has to fabricate some complaint or other to make me look bad and has done this at every contact. And so once again the inevitable visits back to court making for more delays and more separation from Elliott while this Hell goes on.
Due to the stress of all this I have finally lost my business, the last 4 years have devastated me and funds are nonexistent. My attending endless court hearings and related appointments has left me feeling hopeless and debased. Now I have had to seek medical help to deal with the stress and this in turn has been used against me to suggest that I am ill in some way and not fit to care for my son, a thing I was well able to do and happily did before my ex brought these proceedings. I know that things are stacked purposely against me It leaves me with a stark choice of going into debt, or giving up what little contact I have. Sometimes I have felt suicidal, without hope, debased and made to feel like I am a terrible father, yet in my heart I know I am a good dad. Someone who has stood by my son since the very day he was born. I was his main carer, I was his play mate, his security and I love him to bits.
I have faced many allegations that seem to be regularly plucked out of thin air, the Cafcass officer believes every word my ex says and reports them to the court as facts without any investigation or reference back to me. My ex can say whatever she wants and it is given credence and my side of the story is never sought and my efforts to toe the line in this process go unnoticed and ignored. My life is on hold while this process goes on. I cannot turn my back on my son, yet cannot afford to pay further huge financial demands to see him each month.
Last year (March 14th2012) I won my appeal at the high court in London, the Judges sympathised at the rough deal I had been offered and said that little attention had been given to what Elliott wanted which was more contact and more time with me. I am still traumatized by what has happened and feel deeply apprehensive about further future hearings in the biased family courts. I know that I might possibly have to go through the same hell again, to see another psychologist again who will report whatever negatives are pre-loaded into the court bundle that she receives about me. I am presently complaining to the appropriate authorities about this so-called expert’s evidence. I find it distressing and tiresome, but I love Elliott enough to carry on with my fight for justice, it is not just for me, but for the son that loves his father.
I have not seen my son for 14 months now, I am eager to get back to court before Maria alienates him completely, so that contact can be re-established. I do not want to take Elliott from his mother, I have always made that clear to all. I know that he loves her and I would not do anything to change that, in fact I would encourage it. However, I write often to Elliott, but don’t know if the letters are forwarded to him. Recently Maria has moved house and I have no idea where to, she will not agree to allow me to know of her new residence so I can write to Elliott there. All contact has now been severed from Elliott I know nothing at all about his life, NOTHING! The courts have all the information in this regard, but see fit to allow this situation to continue. And the courts are there for the welfare of our children? This is a huge joke to me! I believe they do more damage to families than good, I am sure of it. I wait to go back to the hell of the family courts to fight on in the world of total bias in favour of mothers, where fathers have to prove beyond a shadow of doubt that they are good fathers fit to see their own flesh and blood. This is not the case for mothers, they are looked upon with sympathy, and surely mothers don’t lie do they, or do they?
Support for each other and tears.
On June the 16th 2012 I attended a rally with many other fathers desperate to see their children again. It was organised by Fathers 4 Justice and took place in London at Trafalgar Square. I observed the same sad look in many of those fathers’ eyes as I have in my own, but because of my own experience of being excluded from my son’s life I felt true understanding and compassion for them. We were able to strengthen each other’s resolve to carry on with the fight to seek justice for our children. We embraced each other without shame and listened with empathy to each other’s stories. To take upon yourself the weight of a strangers load while still bearing your own seems to me to be the loving and right thing to do. Many hundreds of fathers all of which brought along their missing children’s photos and shoes placing them all together in a show of unity and grieving. Yes many of us shed tears for each other and openly, are not our children worth the tears of their fathers? I think so, don’t you? So, real men do cry and fathers who live everyday thinking about those they love and miss cry even more.
(Elliott is the little blond-haired smiling boy in the brown framed picture at the bottom. His white shoes are seen just above tied in a bow of purple ribbon in remembrance of him. (click to enlarge photo)
So, the next time you watch “Schindler’s List” spare a thought for that little girl in the red coat and also for her father bereaved and grieving at heart for the love he has for his lost child. Then be sure to shed a tear for all children missing their dads, I do every day and for my son Elliott. I will say in conclusion that something truly evil exists within the Family courts, it is my duty to try to change it for all good fathers out there that are heartlessly cut out of their children’s lives. Until the day I die I will always love you my dear son. May God bless you Elliott and all those who have taken the time to read my story here. On my oath it is the truth.
(Click to enlarge photo)